The City of Santa Barbara has denied a permit for a storefront medical marijuana dispensary on Upper De la Vina Street, setting the stage for what’s likely to be a dramatic appeal before the Planning Commission.
Ihab Ghannam and his attorney, North Hollywood-based Abraham Labbad, lost a bid on Nov. 11 to open a dispensary at 2609 De la Vina St. between Yellow Belly Tap & Restaurant and Jedlicka’s Saddlery. The city’s staff hearing officer, Susan Reardon, denied the permit.
She said the proposed dispensary was in the wrong location, the parking spaces behind the building were too far from the entrance, and the application had inconsistencies within its operations plan.
“The parking area is so far away from the entrance area,” Reardon said. “You have to walk way around the block, and that seems like a lot of area to cover. It just seems this is not the appropriate building for this type of use.”
Reardon and Labbad exchanged barbs during the meeting after Labbad repeatedly attempted to talk over her when she was explaining why she was denying the permit.
At one point, Labbad looked at Reardon and put his palm up in her direction.
“Excuse me, it’s my turn now,” he interrupted, prompting Reardon to reply “no, no, no.”
Labbad blamed “typos” for the inconsistencies in the operations plan, while Reardon retorted that there shouldn’t be substantive mistakes in such a document at the project approval stage.
When Labbad was later trying to talk over Reardon, she told him: “I need you to stop talking now.”
Reardon’s main concern was the parking. Storefront dispensary entrances are required to face the street and be in plain public view. With parking for the De la Vina site located behind the building, however, customers would have to walk down the driveway to Constance Avenue and then around to De la Vina.
Labbad countered that the long walk around the block didn’t matter. He said parking was available on De la Vina Street in front and that patients can have caregivers handle the transactions.
Several neighborhood residents spoke at the meeting, saying it was the wrong place for a storefront dispensary.
“Uses such as these are neighborhood killers,” Tony Vassillo said. “They provide the basis for attracting unwanted crime problems in Santa Barbara. When we have gangs on both the Westside and Eastside of the city, this becomes a natural attraction and can only hurt the properties around it.”
Mary Ann Neilsen also objected, asserting that the proposal sounded “shady.”
“Little children live in this neighborhood,” she said. “It is really uncalled for.”
Bonnie Raisin complained that junior high and high school students will know the marijuana is available.
“It is a signal that marijuana is OK; it is out there,” she said.
Raisin said marijuana is a gateway drug for some people who suffer from addiction.
Marilyn Miller, who said she was a nurse practitioner, spoke in support of the dispensary, noting that the country is moving toward legalization and that alcohol was a far worse problem.
“You know how many drunk kids we have walking around Santa Barbara on Haley Street with all those taverns there?” she asked. “If we are going to advocate for addiction, let’s start with those taverns in Santa Barbara because those are the ones that are addicting kids way more than marijuana.”
She said marijuana is a medicine.
“If you have ever had to have chemotherapy, if you have ever seen an AIDS patient, if you ever had a kid with a seizure, you will understand the medical reason for this herb,” Miller said. “It’s a herb. It is 6,000 years old.”
A current Santa Barbara ordinance allows up to three storefront dispensaries. One has received a permit, but has not yet opened at 3617 State St. at Ontare Plaza.
Labbad has until Monday to file an appeal with the Planning Commission.